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How can nurses get involved in research?

What is nursing research?

Nursing research is systematic inquiry designed to develop knowledge about issues of importance to the nursing profession, including nursing practice, education, administration, and informatics (Polit and Beck 2004).

With the current emphasis on EBP, it has become every nurse’s responsibility to engage in research in some way. At a minimum nurses are expected to be consumers of nursing research and to read research reports to develop new skills and to keep up to date on relevant findings that may affect their practice. At the other end of the scale are the producers of nursing research: nurses who actively participate in designing and implementing research studies. At one time, most nurse researchers were academics who taught in schools of nursing, but research is increasingly being conducted by practicing nurses who want to find what works best for their patients. Between these two end points on the continuum lie a rich variety of research activities in which nurses engage as a way of improving their effectiveness and enhancing their professional lives. These activities include the following:

  • Participating in a journal club in a practice setting, which involves regular meetings among nurses to discuss and critique research articles
  • Attending research presentations at professional conferences
  • Discussing the implications and relevance of research findings with clients
  • Giving clients information and advice about participation in studies
  • Assisting in the collection of research information (e.g., distributing questionnaires to patients)
  • Reviewing a proposed research plan with respect to its feasibility in a clinical setting and offering clinical expertise to improve the plan
  • Collaborating in the development of an idea for a clinical research project
  • Participating on an institutional committee that reviews the ethical aspects of proposed research before it is undertaken
  • Evaluating completed research for its possible use in practice, and using it when appropriate

In all these activities, nurses with some research skills are in a better position than those without them to contribute to nursing knowledge. An understanding of nursing research can improve the depth and breadth of every nurse’s professional practice.

In the UK we also have many nurses working in clinical trials as research nurses (hyperlink). Their role is crucial to the smooth running of trials, both to recruit adequate numbers and to help support study participants. These nurses tend not to be involved in study design or in nursing research, but their knowledge puts them in a good position to help develop or support nursing research.

Read more:

  1. Yes, nurses do research, and it’s improving patient care. Blog by Nancy Blake (2016) 
  2. Polit and Beck (2004) Nursing Research: Principles and Methods Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 
  3. The NIHR portal for their dissemination centre. Set yourself up to receive latest news in your area.

How can nurses get involved in research?

The best way to start to get involved in research is to find your team. Who else is involved or interested in research in your area of interest? This could be academic or clinical. The easiest way in the first instance is to sign up for some study that includes research. This could be a Masters, PhD or even a stand-alone research module. Doing a research module will give you a better understanding of research but won’t necessarily equip you to be a Principal Investigator. A PhD should be regarded as a research training for those people who want to lead and undertake primary research. If you just want to be part of a team that is doing research then look around to see who else is doing research where you could be part of the team.

Where to find support?

Within your NHS Trust there will be a research and development department with staff who will help you to develop your research ideas.  In England the NIHR support a national Research Design Service (hyperlink) and there are 10 regional offices. People at the RDS will help support the development of your study from initial concept to obtaining funding. The help and advice you can get will include research methods (both qualitative and quantitative) statistical and health economic advice and specific advice about how to get funding. Click here to find out more about the RDS.

Getting support from academic partners is often a good idea. If your Trust or Health Board have a partnership with a local university then find out who is doing research in the area you are interested and contact them. They may well be interested in helping you to develop a bid for research funding and will remain an active partner to support the study processes once funding is in place.

Clinical Research Nurses

If you are a clinical research nurse there is lots of support for you in your role. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has a dedicated web site that celebrates your work.  They host a national annual meeting and have a regular newsletter.

Find out more about clinical research nurses on the NHIR website.

Research Route Map

Health and Care Research Wales' Research Route Map is designed to help guide health and social care researchers through the research process.

It aims to give researchers and research teams easy, user friendly guidance on every aspect of the research process. It makes clear the support available from Health and Care Research Wales and others, providing guidance, best practice examples and key documents and templates.